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BLOG: Can The NSA Hear Us Now?

June 12, 2013, 1:24 PM HST
* Updated June 12, 5:04 PM
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For a megalithic technology corporation, the folks at Google are cheerfully candid about their privacy policy.

On their website, the company makes no secret about the fact that they collect and store data about everything from your browsing and search activities to your phone usage and physical location.

They even helpfully inform you that if necessary, they will provide that data to “meet any applicable law… or enforceable governmental request.”

Apparently, they’ve been doing a lot of that.

A few days ago, the media went bonkers over the leaking of a US government surveillance program that gathered customer data from Google and other technology giants like Microsoft and Facebook.

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The government deemed this little venture “PRISM,” which sounds appropriately shady for a program that monitors more or less everything you do.

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The leaker-in-question, who House Majority Leader John Boehner has calmly labeled a “traitor,” later revealed himself to be Edward Snowden, a Hawaii-based contractor serving as a highly paid consultant for government-sponsored snooping.

This is the second time in just a few months that a Hawaii contractor has provided the Aloha State some nice free publicity in the midst of disclosing classified data.

But whether you’re a resident of Hawaii or New Hampshire, the existence of a government program that aggregates personal data shouldn’t come as a shock.

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PRISM, for all the headaches it is causing the Obama administration, may in part be rooted in post-September 11 legislation like the “Patriot Act,” an incredibly long acronym that stands for the “Uniting (and) Strengthening America (by) Providing Appropriate Tools Required (to) Intercept (and) Obstruct Terrorism” Act of 2001.

Seems it was Congress’s way of saying “privacy is overrated.”

Whether the government justifies PRISM using the Patriot Act, or even the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act for that matter, the feds seem fully content to keep on gathering and analyzing as much data on everyone as computationally possible.

Even though sections of the Patriot Act have twice been struck down as unconstitutional, the US Congress continues to re-write provisions of it in an attempt to out-legislate the courts.

While Chinese Presient Xi Jingping and US President Barack Obama have been busy discussing the issue of each country’s attempt to hack the other, it is becoming increasingly clear that our own country has been routinely hacking itself.

Awkward timing: Pres. Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jingping meet in June. Image courtesy Brookings Institute.

Awkward timing: Pres. Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jingping meet in June 2013. Image courtesy Brookings Institute.

Of course, government spokespersons have attempted to reassure citizens that unless they are engaged in “suspicious” activity, they shouldn’t sweat the fact that every one of their phone calls, emails, and online interactions are being gathered and analyzed.

So what’s a concerned citizen to do? According to the alleged whistleblower/traitor/hero (depending on who you ask), there’s really no point in even trying to cover your tracks from the feds.

When Snowden was asked by the UK’s Guardian newspaper “Is it possible to put security in place to protect against state surveillance?” he reassuringly replied, “You are not even aware of what is possible. The extent of their capabilities is horrifying…you will never be safe whatever protections you put in place.”

Which means the sole remaining option for the privacy-minded may be to completely unplug from society, retreat to the wilderness, and grow a beard while living in a network of caves and tunnels.

Nothing suspicious about that, right?

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